IN MEMORIAM: Attorney John Scarzafava

IN MEMORIAM:  Atty. John Scarzafava, 67,

Of Oneonta; Honored Advocate, Civic Leader

John Scarzafava and his wife, Nettie Jean, at the Otsego County Chamber annual dinner in March, where he received the Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award.  (
John Scarzafava and his wife, Nettie Jean, at the Otsego County Chamber annual dinner in March, where he received the Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award. (

ONEONTA – Attorney John F. Scarzafava, 67, a partner in the Scarzafava & Basdekis law firm, passed away Sunday, July 13, at his summer home on Otsego Lake, after a five-year battle with lung cancer.

He was born April 4, 1947, in Oneonta, to Francis and Netti Scarzafava.  He graduated from OHS in 1965 and was placed on the school’s Wall of Distinction in 2010.

He graduated cum laude from St. Bonaventure University in 1973, and in 1993 was named Alumnus of the Year.  He was president of St. Bonaventure’s Alumni Association and served on the board of trustees.  The Scarzafava Scholarship has enabled many Oneontans who otherwise could not have afforded it to attend the university.

John received his juris doctor degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, where he was a member of the law review and Moot Court champion.  He received a the Delta Theta Phi Scholarship, was a member of the Order of the Barristers and was included in Who’s Who in American Law Schools.  He was president of Delta Theta Phi and the Inter-Fraternity Council.

At St. Mary’s, he was a student of Page Keeton, the most prolific writer in the history of American jurisprudence.  He took Keeton’s philosophy to heart: “The law is not what the court said the last time, it was what the court says the next time.”

John helped advance the law in the cases he tried, the articles and books he published, the lectures he delivered and courses he taught across the nation.  He was commissioned by James Publishing Co. to co-write a book on injury law and by Trial Encyclopedia to write the section on defective products.  He received the Texas Bar Association’s Award for Literary Excellence for an article in the Texas Bar Journal.

John’s efforts led to his prestigious recognitions in the legal field with the American Trial Lawyer’s Top 100 Lawyers Award (N.Y.) and Best Lawyers in America Award.  He was included in the New York Super Lawyers, the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Melvin Belli Society.

He was profiled in New York magazine as one of the top trial lawyers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Despite these honors, John was most proud of humbling the powerful on behalf of those who had no voice.

Locally, he served as chairman and vice chairman of United Way campaigns, led the campaign that saved the Oneonta Area Food Bank, was voted Citizen of the Year by the Oneonta Italian American Club, and received special recognition from the state Assembly for his community service.   This year, he received a Governor’s Award for Community Service, recognition from the state Senate, and the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award in March at its annual Celebration of Business, which set an attendance record.

Survivors include his wife, Nettie Jean; his son and three daughters and their families, Robert and Kelley Scarzafava; Angela, Francesco, Luca and Sofia Duina, Raye, Todd, Alana and Olivia; Amber Atkinson and Kevin Kraft; his mother, Netti Scarzafava; brothers Santo, Gene and Gary, sisters Rose Ann and Loraine, and many nieces, nephews, cousins and aunts.

He was predeceased by his father, Frank Scarzafava, and sister Jeanette Miller.

In lieu of flowers, the families requests contributions be made to the Scarzafava Scholarship at St. Bonaventure University, 3261 West State Road, St. Bonaventure, NY 14778; Mount Irenaeus Mountain Retreat, Box 100, West Clarksville, NY 14786, or St. Mary’s Food Pantry, 39 Walnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820.

A funeral mass will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 17, at St. Mary’s Church.  There will be no calling hours.  Immediately following the mass, a celebration of his life is planned at Foothills Performing Arts Center.  All are invited.

Arrangements are entrusted to Lester R. Grummons Funeral Home, Oneonta.